Seeking a cool baby gift for her friend, Lisa Roth was disenchanted with what she found. Sensing a hole in the marketplace, she took the idea of lullaby covers of hard rock tunes to her label, CMH. A year and a half later, Roth took over the project and has led the boutique Rockabye Baby series to over 100 million streams and 1.6 million CD’s sold.
A Tradition of Covers
[Pop covers have] been done at this label for years: the Pickin’ On series is bluegrass versions of rock and pop songs.
The label started in the ‘70s as a classic country and bluegrass label. David Haerle, the owner, his father came here from Germany, fell in love with bluegrass and country and decided to start a bluegrass label. When he passed away, David took over and those legacy artists were still on the label. The idea came up—why don’t we do bluegrass versions of rock songs? To hear a bluegrass version of a Metallica song...it’s mind blowing.
Then we started the Vitamin String Quartet, which is string quartet versions of everything. It’s a whole different experience to hear a heavy metal or rap artist done with strings. That’s what they were doing when I started here 12 years ago and it was a natural transition into doing the same thing with lullabies.
The Irony Factor
[Lullaby covers] provide that sense of irony. It provides something for the adult in this equation of parenthood. Very often, things are put on the back burner when you become a parent. And, hopefully, we provide music that’s recognizable, that they can share with their little ones and get a kick out of. They know the lyrics, even though it’s instrumental. They have memories of when they used to listen to that song, so it makes it enjoyable for the adults as well.
Freedom To Create
It’s a group effort here. I always called this an idea factory more than a record label. People come up with ideas and we go to work and create. There’s a lot of input on all sides, but I’ve never felt like I had to check in and say, “Is it okay to do this artist? Is it okay to do this artwork?” There are legalities we have to follow, but beyond that there’s a lot of creative freedom.
Once we choose an artist, we contact the publishers or owners of each song and obtain a license. Then we distribute an album and track list to one of our producers. They deconstruct each song and put it back together using our palette. The first draft comes to me and my listening partner, James Curtiss. We go over each and every note. We make notes and send them back. We can go back and forth five, eight, 12 times before we get what we call the perfect clunk and tinkle.
Leo Flynn, Andrew Bissell and Steven Boone are our producers. One of those three gets assigned an album, so there’s one producer to each album.
It’s taken a lot of time to evolve the sound and palette of Rockabye Baby. All the things you think make a lullaby—they don’t. To change a minor chord using a wood block requires smarts and a little fairy dust. These three producers have been working on Rockabye Baby for the past 10 years, and we know all the tricks to make it sound cute yet maintain the original intention [of the song], whether it’s BeyoncО or Nine Inch Nails.